FOX Soccer Exclusive
Benitez's passing leaves tragic void
Ecuador striker Christian Benitez died after suffering a cardiorespiratory arrest, less than a month after joining Qatari club El Jaish on Sunday night.
Benitez was admitted to hospital with severe stomach pain hours after making his debut against Qatar Sports Club in the Sheikh Jassem Cup but died shortly afterwards. He was 27.
An Ecuador Football Federation (FEF) statement read: "The FEF regrets to inform you of the death of Christian Benitez, the striker of Qatar club El Jaish and the Ecuador national team. Benitez, who was with his new club in Qatar, had a severe stomach pain, which was why he was rushed to a hospital, where after a few hours suffered he suffered a cardiorespiratory arrest, which ended his life. The Ecuadorian Football Federation extends its heartfelt sympathy to the family - parents, wife, children - and friends of our striker Christian Benitez. May he rest in peace.”
Benítez left Mexico this summer in search for a fresh start. He knew he needed a new challenge after claiming the Mexico’s Clausura title with Club América and finishing atop the scoring charts for a third consecutive tournament. He understood his high-priced departure would also allow America to strengthen the squad for its title defense.
Most of the speculation linked him with a return to Europe. Benítez's exploits over the past few years prompted interest from the likes of Atlético Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur. His performances warranted the chatter, but he ended up making a rather unexpected move to the Middle East instead.
El Jaish tabled an offer América and Benítez simply could not refuse. América received a reported $15 million sum for Benítez, a figure some found outlandish based on the Ecuadorian international's recent production. Benítez sealed the move in early July and made his debut for his new side last night in a 2-0 victory over Qatar SC in a local cup competition. It should have marked the first substantive step in this new chapter of his career. It instead proved the last appearance he would ever make.
The shocking loss left Ecuador in grief as morning dawned in his native Quito. Benítez's agent, El Jaish officials and local reports confirmed the news to the horror of everyone in the country. International teammate and close friend Antonio Valencia expressed his sympathies with the world on Twitter, a cue for everyone else to pick up the thread and share their memories about the man they called “Chucho,” and a career cut tragically short:
Por siempre vas hacer mi hermano este dolor muy fuerte mi hermano pero te queremos pic.twitter.com/lvspu8NXDy— Antonio Valencia (@7AntoV) July 29, 2013
The thoughts of all at Birmingham City Football Club are with the friends and family of Chucho following this very sad news. #RIP— Birmingham City FC (@BcfcDotCom) July 29, 2013
Te fuiste como un Campeón, siempre estarás en nuestros corazones. Descansa en Paz Christian Benítez pic.twitter.com/NDktfEDch1— Club América (@CF_America) July 29, 2013
Benítez still had his best years in front of him, though he accomplished plenty during his truncated time in the game. He pursued the family trade when he decided to take up a career in soccer. His father, Ermen Benítez, still tops the all-time domestic scoring charts in Ecuador, and it did not take long for Christian to show he could follow in his father’s footsteps. He rose through the youth ranks at El Nacional and broke into the first team in 2004. He earned his first international cap a year later and started to spark interest from overseas clubs shortly thereafter when he earned a place in the squad for the 2006 World Cup.
Santos Laguna started Benítez's successful relationship with the Mexican top flight when it fended off interest from elsewhere to sign him ahead of the 2007 Apertura. His return of seven goals from 17 matches provided a encouraging glimpse into the future for the club (winners of the 2008 Clausura) and for the player himself.
Benítez soon emerged as the top striker in the country. He presented a mix of industry, pace and power few defenders could handle. He did not always finish his chances, but he polished off enough of them to regularly feature at the top of the scoring charts. And he always posed a threat even when he couldn't find his range on a given day.
A return of one goal in every two matches inspired Birmingham City to take him on loan for the 2009-10 Premier League season. He did not replicate his regular plundering in the Barclays Premier League, but he did earn admiration for his earnest toil for the cause and his desire to establish himself in England despite cultural and linguistic barriers.
Benítez returned to Santos after Birmingham declined to exercise an expensive option to make his move permanent and showed he had not lost his touch by topping the Mexican scoring charts for the first time with 16 goals in 22 appearances in the 2010 Apertura. He did not hit those heights in the 2011 Clausura, but the dropoff did not dissuade América from paying a reported $10 million (a record for a Mexican club) for his services in time for the 2011 Apertura.
The partnership between América and Benítez worked out wonderfully for both parties. Benítez continued his ample production in the final third throughout the inevitable turmoil at the club and finished as the top scorer in each of his final three tournaments in Mexico. América sorted out its own concerns and used Benítez's goals and a revamped rearguard to win the club's first league title since the 2005 Clausura. Benítez concluded his time in Mexico with 103 goals from 174 appearances before making his move to the Middle East.
Benítez traveled to Qatar with plenty still to accomplish. He faced the prospect of settling into a new league and supplying the goals expected of him. He featured prominently in Ecuador's currently successful efforts to secure a return to the World Cup and hoped to appear in his second World Cup next year.
All of those objectives appeared firmly within Benítez's grasp before the unthinkable struck on Sunday night. The end arrived far too soon for a talented player with so much left to accomplish in the game. And now his colleagues and his supporters are left to wonder how much more he would have achieved if not for the tragedy that befell him.
El Jaish were stunned at the player's death so soon after his arrival. A statement read: "The club would like to offer its sincere condolences to the family of the player. Benitez had recently joined the club from Club America for three seasons. His sudden departure is a big shock for each member of the technical and administrative staff. He was a player that over the short period he was here was regarded for his high moral character."
FOXSoccer.com’s newswire services contributed to this report.